Author: David Alton

2015 Queens Speech Debate – the cruel ideology of Daesh and their orgy of violence in Iraq and Syria

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Originally posted on :

ISIS march on Palmyra ISIS march on Palmyra

5.40 pm: Thursday May 28th 2015

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, in welcoming the talented team of Ministers who have responsibility for international affairs and security issues, it is clear from the debate today on the gracious Speech that there are no shortage of challenges facing them.

In my remarks, I should like to follow those who have spoken about the particular challenge that is posed by ISIS.

Last week, the barbaric beheadings in Palmyra, accompanied by the blitzkrieg of antiquities and ancient colonnades, graphically illustrated the nature of the depraved ideology that animates ISIS or Daesh, while, in a double victory, its capture of Ramadi underlines the serious threat that it poses and, as other noble Lords have said, the urgency with which we must re-evaluate our military and diplomatic approach.

ISIS may call itself a state but, despite its name, it is…

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June 9th Roscoe Lecture – Nobel Laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt – Tickets: b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk or via 0151 231 3852

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June 9th Roscoe Lecture, Liverpool, 5.00pm – Nobel Laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt – Tickets: b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk or via 0151 231 3852

Nobel Laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt
Nobel Laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt

Since the seventeenth century, when the Toxteth born astronomer, Jeremiah Horrocks, became the first person to demonstrate that the Moon moved around the Earth in an elliptical orbit, and predicted the transit of Venus in 1639, Liverpool has been at the cutting edge of astronomy.

Toxteth born Jeremiah Horrocks
Toxteth born Jeremiah Horrocks

Jeremiah Horrocks

jeremiah horrocks 3

It’s a tradition brilliantly exemplified today by the work of Liverpool John Moore’s acclaimed astro-physicist, Professor Mike Bode. Along with Patrick Moore and the Astronomer Royal, Lord (Martin) Rees, Mike Bode is a former Roscoe Lecturer.
Following in their footsteps, we are thrilled that on Tuesday 9th June, this distinguished line up will be joined by the internationally renowned Nobel Laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt, who holds the title of Distinguished Professor at The Australian National University.
With other significant academic achievements in Australia, and Harvard, Professor Schmidt led the HighZ Supernova Search team which in 1998 made the breakthrough which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics – having discovered that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Professor Schmidt has been awarded a string of notable awards and has been made a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Australian Academy of Science, and the United States Academy of Science. In 2013 he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia.
This will be a rare opportunity for a British audience to engage directly with one of the world’s most celebrated scientists. It is a Roscoe Lecture which no-one with even a passing interest in astronomy should miss; which every budding Jeremiah Horrocks, interested in astro-physics, should attend; and which the general public will be fascinated by.
In the tradition of the Roscoe Lectures, Professor Schmidt will take questions from the audience – and will no doubt startle and dazzle us with captivating ideas, ranging from the expansion of the universe to the possibility of parallel universes, space travel, and life beyond our own planet.

Brian Schmidt
Brian Schmidt

Tickets: b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk or via 0151 231 3852

Tribute to Yvonne Hutchinson – R.I.P.

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Given on Friday 1st May at the funeral of Yvonne Hutchinson at Huddersfield Christian Fellowship, Cathedral House, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Yvonne Hutchinson3

Tribute to Yvonne Hutchinson

In the last weeks of her life Yvonne asked me if I would give a few reflections at her funeral and it is a great privilege for me to do so this morning.

Yvonne and I first campaigned together in the 1990s when, in 1995, I was promoting a piece of legislation to restrict the availability of gratuitously violent videos to children.

It was at the time of the death of James Bulger who had been murdered by two children who, among many other factors, had been exposed to relentlessly violent video material. It was a defining moment of the 1990s – and one which spoke volumes about the kind of society which we had created.

I received great encouragement from Yvonne who gave her all to the campaign, which included influential media interviews and a willingness to go to court to challenge the British Board of Film Classification and the Home Office. In terms of our Parliamentary objectives, the campaign was successful and we secured an amendment to the Criminal Justice legislation.

As a result of that campaign, we became good friends and as the years passed I came to deeply admire her rare combination of common sense and compassion.

Her advice and views were always worth hearing. Her integrity, ideals, and street wise knowledge of the realities of life for millions of disadvantaged people, were the marks of wonderful woman who will be greatly missed.

Yvonne was marked out in her generation of activists in being a community organiser and social entrepreneur who stepped into political engagement, but without compromising her faith and integrity.

She wanted to make a practical difference locally, while informing important debates about national questions.

So many people don’t want to get involved in the grime and in the cut and thrust of electoral politics.

But Yvonne was different.

Early in life she saw that to change the world, she needed to work with other like-minded people.

It is this sense of political ‘fraternite’ and combination to achieve bigger purposes that is too often lost today, where the pressure is to surrender to the zeitgeist, or to cynicism; to simply lose hope; to hide behind our own inadequacies and to leave others to it.

How often we are tempted to feel like the child into whose mouth Robert Louis Stephenson wrote the words: “the world is so big and I am so small, I do not like it at all, at all.”

Yvonne was not daunted by the odds which can be stacked against us.

She got stuck in, standing for office and joining with other Christians in the journey of political service through the Movement for Christian Democracy, of which she was an early member – and in 1994 had become the regional representative in West Yorkshire.

But mixed in with her sense of service and desire to work with others in a shared mission to change the world was a deep commitment to look at the world through her lens of faith.

She would have shared with Mother Teresa the belief that “If you judge people you don’t have time to love them.” Yvonne knew the importance of seeing the image of God in everyone she encountered and her activism was rooted in an outpouring of love for the common good.
It wasn’t enough for Yvonne to sign-up to a cause – she pondered her soul and determined that she needed to act from an informed conscience in all things.

And this required that old-fashioned notion of intellectual enquiry and the formation of a Christian mind. She thought deeply.

There was nothing accidental in her application to the challenges of life – her walk with God was intentional and so those around her, who had the deepest of respect and admiration for her values, example and personality knew that if Yvonne was signed up, then the cause was just and the sacrifice was worth making.

Her interest in urban development and housing issues led to her serving for seven years on the Board of the Housing Corporation and to her becoming a Trustee of the Church Urban Fund , where she oversaw the restructuring of the organisation leading to significant devolution of decision making.
As a member of the Corporation she represented the interests of tenants and this led to regular speaking engagements around the country. She commented that “Previously, the thought of public speaking would have had me running in the opposite direction but I surprised myself, taking to it like a duck to water and I haven’t shut up since!”

Yvonne Hutchinson2

This passion to address deprivation and the negative conditions which led to social exclusion, homelessness, sink estates, the effects of drug abuse and benefit dependency, had its genesis in 1993 when Yvonne helped to found the Ripleyville Tenants Association in Bradford.

She said ”I had lived across the road in a condemned tower block with my young son and had refused to move until I was offered a flat in Ripleyville.”

The area “felt like a no-man’s-land that everyone had forgotten. Myself and my friend Mandy decided we had to either move out, like everyone else seemed to be doing, or fight for our estate. We decided to stay and fight.” Their fight led to the publication of the guide, “We can work it out” and a £3 million regeneration programme.

In 1997, as part of the Bradford Centenary celebrations, she was nominated by residents as one of the 100 people who represented the ‘Spirit of Bradford’ and her comic book-style portrait was hung in the National Media Museum. The following year Woman Alive magazine published a cover story about her life and the work she had done in her neighbourhood.

Her early experiences in creating social solidarity would lead to her later involvement with the
Georgian Mews Residents Association and the Ferndale Residents Association.

Unsurprisingly Yvonne also became involved in politics and was, for thirteen year a member of the Labour Party. She spoke at the national Party Conference, served as a local Ward Chair in Huddersfield, and as Women’s Officer of the Bradford branch of the Party. With great integrity, and not holding to the old mantra “my party, right or wrong”, Yvonne left her Party in 2007 and in 2008 stood as a local government candidate as an Independent. Although she was unsuccessful she said:

It was a two horse race from the start but a well worthwhile experience and I enjoyed every minute of it! I’ll always be a political animal but for those of us who put serving people before personal power, grass-roots action will always be the best way to get things done for me.”
She also became a Trustee of the Lighthouse Group – which understood the central importance of never writing off young people and, through education, giving them an opportunity in life; and through the Chantelle Bleau Memorial Fund she championed the cause of young people whose lives had been claimed, like Chantelle’s had been, by substance abuse. Chantalle was 16 years old and Yvonne said:

”The vivacious, fun loving 16 year-old was a member of the choir at my local church and I had only seen her full of life a couple of days earlier. Chantelle and a friend had decided to experiment with sniffing lighter fuel while baby-sitting at a neighbour’s house. No one, least of all my friends who were Chantelle’s parents, could believe that sudden death could be a consequence of sniffing a substance so easily available.”
Through her work as UK and Ireland Manager of the international NGO Tearfund she learnt to paint on a wider canvass – and on one memorable occasion she helped me to persuade that charity to address the problem of a well which had become poisoned northern Kenya.

She had gone to Kenya with her church and, after visiting the Joy Church in Nakuru, helped establish the Joy Academy at her website. Yvonne said that she had lost a lot of personal confidence when she dropped out of school at 14 and this development work gave her the stimulus to re-engage with education.

Nelson Mandela would have approved, having , correctly observed that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, or, as the Nobel laureate, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder, after Malala spoke up for the right of girls to receive an education, said: One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

When one of the UN’s greatest Secretary Generals, Dag Hammarskjold, a Christian died after his light aircraft crashed in Africa, a copy of The Imitation of Christ was discovered in his brief case. He understood the fine balance which must always be struck between the things we crave, the rights we cherish and our commensurate civic obligations as citizens, and the role of Faith in animating the life of our communities:

Hammarskjold said:

“The health and strength of a community depends on every citizen’s felling of solidarity with other citizens and on their willingness in the name of this solidarity to shoulder their part of the burdens and responsibilities of the community. The same is, of course, true of humanity as a whole.”

Yvonne understood this idea and knew that everyone is born into a network of relationships – beginning with our families – and this is a partnership which must spread across generations.

The African concept of Ubuntu – which is sometime translated as “humanity towards others” – informed the sort of questions which Yvonne believed we should ask about ourselves and our relationship with the wider community:

Do we respect one another; do we respect our parents and families; do we respect our civic institutions; do we respect those who are different – perhaps for reasons of race, religion, class, gender or orientation? Do we encourage one another?

How do we ensure that vulnerable groups are not made more vulnerable or stigmatised – especially engendering respect for people with disabilities or the elderly?

Do we respect the finite resources entrusted to us?

Do we use them in a sustainable way?

Do we respect our environment – from the streets and neighbourhoods where we live to respect for the natural world?

Do we ask what creates respectful and good communities?

Do we understand the importance of respectful relationships in sustaining society?

How can we strengthen the local and unleash the power of creative citizenship?

Yvonne asked these sort of questions and she discovered the answers. That is why she confidently encouraged us to “Make that change” – “make that change.” But she also said “To make a change you’ve got to have faith and to make a difference you’ve got to have charity.”
She told me: “I never intended to become an activist: I just saw something that needed doing and did it” and she passionately believed that the place to begin the change was through community politics, saying: “For me grassroots action will always be the best way to get things done.”

It’s simple, isn’t it? If you want to change the world, you have to change the country; if you want to change the country, you have to change the community, if you want to change the community, you have to change yourself.

That’s the sort of challenge Yvonne would have thrown at each of us here; and she would have stood four square with the Jewish sage Hillel, who rightly said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

All those who encountered Yvonne will know what a yawning gap is left by her far too early death. But during this season of Easter I can imagine her saying: If your eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord why would you want to linger here? If heaven is real, death is a happy ending.

C.S.Lewis captured this hopeful thought in his wonderful final Narnian Chronicle, The Last Battle: he said that in the world beyond, every day is better than the one which went before, every chapter better than the one which preceded it. And now, after her own last battle, in the place where there are many mansions with many rooms, we can all assume that Yvonne will be organising a heavenly tenants association, setting up some celestial community initiatives, and using her advocacy skills on our behalf. May she rest in peace.

Yvonne Hutchinson

Darfur – the killing continues. Letter to UNSC re Sudan and the ICC. Parliamentary Questions about Darfur and South Kordofan and the Government’s Response.

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Darfur

Letter to UNSC re Sudan and the ICC

Published by SudanUnlimited
UNSC URGED TO END IMPUNITY ON 10th ANNIV. OF ITS REFERRAL OF DARFUR TO THE ICC

78 Sudanese and international humanitarian and human rights organizations and experts urge the UN Security…

Tweet:  78 orgs/experts urge #UNSC to enforce arrest warrants on 10th anniv of referral of #Darfur to #ICC @AmbassadorPower https://www.scribd.com/doc/260469424/Letter-to-UNSC-re-Sudan-and-the-ICC

H.E. Mr. Francois DelattreMarch 31, 2015
We have reached a critical moment in history and we urge you, for the sake of humanity, touphold justice in Sudan and to establish a decisive precedent in order, as the UN Charter states, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “to reaffirm faith infundamental human rights [and] in the dignity and worth of the human person.”
 Inparticular, the Security Council should:
 
Reaffirm your support of the ICC’s investigations in Darfur by actively pursuing thearrests of indicted war criminals and encouraging the Chief Prosecutor, Madame Bensouda, to reopen the court’s investigations.
 
 
Hold a special session on Sudan and the continuing violence in Darfur, Abyei, SouthKordofan and Blue Nile, and hold the Government of Sudan to account for non-cooperation with the ICC and the failure to bring justice to the people of Darfur.
 
Clearly and specifically declare that the upcoming elections in April 2015 are notbeing held in an environment that would allow for free and fair elections and shouldnot be considered as legitimate or as legitimizing the regime in Khartoum.
 
Urge the African Union, the Arab League and other bodies not to send observermissions to Sudan for such elections per the March 27, 2015 letter to the AfricanUnion by 23 Sudanese civil society organizations.
 
Consider other measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter that would help endthe suffering of the people of Sudan.Sincerely,Act for SudanAfrican Freedom CoalitionAfrican Soul, American HeartAlustadh Mahmoud Mohamed Taha Cultural Center – MTCCArry Organization for Human RightsBlue Nile Association for Peace and DevelopmentBlue Nile Community AssociationBrooklyn Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized SudanChrist Church, JerusalemChristian Solidarity International-USACollectif Urgence DarfourColorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and ActionCommunity of South Sudanese and America Women/Men (CSSAW)Darfur Action Group of South CarolinaDarfur and BeyondDarfur Interfaith NetworkDarfur People’s Association of New YorkDarfur Relief and Documentation CentreDarfur Solidarity Group, South AfricaDarfur Union in the UK and N. Ireland
  
H.E. Mr. Francois DelattreMarch 31, 2015
Darfur Women Action GroupDarfur Women NetworkDear Sudan Love MarinDoctors to the WorldGenocide No More – Save DarfurGenocide WatchGeorgia Coalition to Prevent GenocideHumanity Is UsHumanity UnitedInvestors Against GenocideJerusalem Center for Genocide PreventionJews Against GenocideJoining Our VoicesKentuckiana Taskforce Against GenocideLong Island Darfur Action GroupMassachusetts Coalition to Save DarfurMy Sister’s KeeperNever Again CoalitionNew York Coalition for All SudanNuba Christian Family Mission, Inc.Nuba Mountains Advocacy GroupNuba Mountains International Assoc./NYNuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad UK and Northern Ireland BranchNuba Peace InitiativeOperation Broken SilencePeople4SudanPittsburgh Darfur Emergency CoalitionSan Antonio Coalition Against GenocideSan Francisco Bay Area Darfur CoalitionSave Darfur North Shore BostonSociety for Threatened PeoplesSt. Clare’s Episcopal Church, Pleasanton, CASTAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass AtrocitiesStop Genocide NowSudan Advocacy Action ForumSudan UnlimitedThe Elsa-Gopa TrustThe Institute on Religion and DemocracyThe Sudanese Community Church, Denver, ColoradoTriangles of TruthUnite for DarfurUnited to End GenocideVoices for SudanWaging Peace
 
Ahmed H. Adam, Visiting Fellow, Institute for African Development, Cornell University
Darfur – the killing continues:  Letter to the UNSC regarding the 10th anniversary of its referral of Darfur to the ICC.

H.E. Mr. Francois DelattreMarch 31, 2015
 
Hamid E. Ali, PhD, Associate Professor of Public Policy, The American University in Cairo
 
Lord David Alton of Liverpool, House of Lords, UK Parliament
 
The Baroness Cox, House of Lords and CEO HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust)
 
Ellen J. Kennedy, PhD, Executive Director, World Without Genocide at William MitchellCollege of Law
 
David King, Harvard University
 
Gill Lusk, Journalist
 
Dr. Greg Miller, Professor Emeritus, Millsaps College
 
Eric Reeves
 
Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Associate Professor, Hebrew University – HadassahSchool of Public Health and Community Medicine
 
Victoria Sanford, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, LehmanCollege; Director, Center for Human Rights & Peace Studies
 
Henry C. Theriault, Professor of Philosophy, Worchester State University
 
Dr. Samuel Totten, Professor Emeritus, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
 
John H. Weiss, Caceres-Neuffer Genocide Action Group, Cornell Universitycc: United Nations Security Council MembersOffice of the Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United NationsOffice of the Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States to the United NationsDelegation of the European Union to the United Nations
———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Darfur

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 25th March 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the escalation of the conflict, including sexual violence targeted at women, in Darfur over the past 12 months; and what assessment they have made of the outcome of investigations into reports of mass rape in Tabit earlier this year.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St JohnsBaroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative 25th March 2015

We remain deeply concerned by the continued escalation of conflict in Darfur that has resulted in over 40,000 newly displaced persons so far in 2015. Reports of widespread sexual violence, including Human Rights Watch’s investigation into the events in Tabit, are deeply disturbing. In my press statement of 13 February I reiterated our call for a full and independent investigation into what happened in Tabit and unfettered access for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur, as well as for humanitarian agencies to provide assistance.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 25th March 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Northover on 4 March (HLDeb, col 215), what steps they are taking with their international partners to prevent the government of Sudan from further destabilising the situation in South Sudan through cross-border interference and interventions; on what evidence they base their assertion that “the government of Sudan themselves are playing a non-obstructive role generally speaking”; and to which non-governmental humanitarian organisations and charities the government of Sudan allows access to provide humanitarian assistance in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.

Photo of Lord Bourne of AberystwythLord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 25th March 2015

We have consistently been clear in our private engagements with countries in the region, including Sudan, that they need to support all efforts to bring peace to the people of South Sudan. The Government of Sudan has played a non-obstructive role in the peace process led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which it has supported, including through being part of IGAD’s core mediation team.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 25th March 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the number of (1) villages destroyed in Darfur in 2014, (2) people who were newly displaced that year, (3) displaced people in Darfur in total, and (4) Darfurians currently in refugee camps in Eastern Chad.

Photo of Lord Bourne of AberystwythLord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 25th March 2015

According to the latest UN Panel of Experts report of 15th January 2015, 3,324 villages were destroyed between December 2013 and April 2014. The United Nations (UN) Sudan 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that in Darfur 430,000 people were displaced in 2014 resulting in a total number of 2.5 million people displaced. The United Nation High Commission for Refugees has a record of 367,229 Sudanese refugees in Chad of the 28 February 2015.

According to data relating to UK funding of the Common Humanitarian Fund in 2014 we can confirm that the Government of Sudan has allowed access to both national and international non-governmental humanitarian organisations in Darfur and government-controlled parts of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister recall our exchange on 17 May 2012, when I asked her whether she concurred with the view of Dr Mukesh Kapila, formerly our high representative in Sudan, that the second genocide of the 21st century was unfolding in South Kordofan, Darfur being the first? In her reply she said that,

“it is clear that there have been indiscriminate attacks on civilians and war crimes”.—[ Official Report , 17/5/12; col. 526.]

In the nearly three years that have elapsed since then, during which an estimated 2,500 bombs have been dropped on civilian targets, why has the international community totally failed to prevent this horrific carnage, failed systematically to collect the evidence, failed to establish an international committee of inquiry, and failed to hold anyone to account for these atrocities?

Photo of Baroness NorthoverBaroness Northover Liberal Democrat

I do remember that exchange and I remember the discussions we had after that question as well—as no doubt the noble Lord does—and

the sensitivity of what we did in trying to make sure that we were able to get humanitarian organisations in, which we are seeking to do. We are extremely concerned to make sure that that access is there. It is indeed a very challenging situation and we would hold both sides to account. Certainly, in terms of what the Government of Sudan have been doing, we have enormous concerns and address this through the human rights activities that I was talking about.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 3rd February 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when officials from the Department for International Development, the European Union or United Nations agencies last had access to conflict areas of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur; how many displaced people are estimated to be located in Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains; and how many refugees and people displaced by conflict in the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan are estimated to be in camps inside and outside these countries.

Photo of Baroness NorthoverBaroness Northover Liberal Democrat 3rd February 2015

United Nations agencies operate in all five states of Darfur and Government held areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. DFID and ECHO travel regularly to these states (with the exception of South Kordofan) to monitor programmes. The Government routinely denies humanitarian access to areas of active conflict where needs are often greatest. Humanitarian access from Sudan toopposition held areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan has been blocked by the Government since 2012.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are 3.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan, 1,470,000 of these live in IDP camps in Darfur. There are 540,000 IDPs in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, with a fifth of these living in non-government controlled areas. There are an estimated 625,000 Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries. In South Sudan, there are around 1.5 million IDPs and 500,000 South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries, including 120,000 in Sudan

South Kordofan and Blue Nile

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 25th March 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Northover on 4 March (HLDeb, col 215), what steps they are taking with their international partners to prevent the government of Sudan from further destabilising the situation in South Sudan through cross-border interference and interventions; on what evidence they base their assertion that “the government of Sudan themselves are playing a non-obstructive role generally speaking”; and to which non-governmental humanitarian organisations and charities the government of Sudan allows access to provide humanitarian assistance in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.

Photo of Lord Bourne of AberystwythLord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 25th March 2015

We have consistently been clear in our private engagements with countries in the region, including Sudan, that they need to support all efforts to bring peace to the people of South Sudan. The Government of Sudan has played a non-obstructive role in the peace process led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which it has supported, including through being part of IGAD’s core mediation team.

According to data relating to UK funding of the Common Humanitarian Fund in 2014 we can confirm that the Government of Sudan has allowed access to both national and international non-governmental humanitarian organisations in Darfur and government-controlled parts of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 23rd March 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many Sudanese people they assess to have been displaced or to have fled from Blue Nile or South Kordofan to Ethiopia or South Sudan.

Photo of Baroness NorthoverBaroness Northover Liberal Democrat 23rd March 2015

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has a record, as of 28 February 2015, of 233,000 refugees from Sudan in South Sudan.

There are a further 36,000 refugees from Sudan in Ethiopia.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 6:16 pm, 10th March 2015

My Lords, in debating the findings of this report, we clearly owe a great debt to the noble, Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the members of the Select Committee. The ability to produce reports of this quality eloquently underlined the need for an international affairs Select Committee of this House, as the noble Lord said in his introductory comments—and I happily echo that.

In July last year, when introducing a Cross-Bench debate on the importance of the BBC World Service and the British Council, I argued that the deployment of smart power would always consist of a combination of Joseph Nye’s soft power, backed up by the hard power of military capability—a point that my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup made so eloquently earlier. I drew on the British Academy’s excellent report, The Art of Attraction. In the intervening nine months, the world has become more fragmented and dangerous, with terrorist webs, rampaging militias and armies posing existential threats. As it emerges from a period of sustained austerity and battle fatigue, following wearying wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Britain in 2015 is a country that has become uncertain about its

place in the world. This uncertainty is reinforced by jihadist militias and terrorists, the territorial aggression of Russia, the nuclear threat posed by Iran and North Korea, and the unresolved question of what sort of relationship we are to have with continental Europe.

Our world is less tolerant and more violent: from Syria, Iraq and the continued rise of the so-called Islamic State or Daesh, which continues to murder people and eradicate culture and heritage; to the horrors of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the Sudanese regime has dropped more than 2,500 bombs on its civilian population; to Boko Haram’s abduction of girls in Nigeria; to the burning alive of Christians in Pakistan; to the recent beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya; and to the continuing incarceration of 200,000 people in the prison camps of North Korea. The need to deploy smart power is self-evident. It would be folly in these circumstances to reduce further our military or non-military capability.

Darfur

Singapore Management University’s Distinguished Education Lecture: Monday 30th 2015 – Educating for Citizenship – and link to Power Point Presentation

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David Alton delivers the 2012 Tyburn Lecture  

Singapore Management University’s Distinguished Education Lecture: Monday 30th 2015

Click here for link to power point presentation accompanying the lecture:

http://davidalton.net/media/

EDUCATION FOR CITZENSHIP

 

University President, Professor De Meyer; Professor Kirpal Singh; Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests: I am honoured to have been invited to deliver the Wee Kim Wee Lecture – not least because of his own belief that education is central the cultivation of good citizenship. And where better to deliver such a lecture than at Singapore Management University – which like the university where I hold a chair, Liverpool John Moores, is a modern civic university? And when better than to consider some of these questions than at the end of a week in which Singapore has been commemorating the memory of its founding father, Lee Kwan Yew.

When Dr.Singh asked me to take as my subject “Education for Citizenship” he asked me to do so in the context of a world which is being convulsed by violence and conflict and disfigured by intolerance and civic disaggregation – such a contrast to one of Singapore’s, and Lee Kwan Yew’s, central achievements.

In the UK – and it is true in other jurisdictions – there has been a run of confidence in national institutions. Banks have seen their reputations tarnished by deliberate mis-selling and the financial crisis; the media by phone hacking; Parliament by falsified expense claims; many aspects of social and economic life in turmoil. Trust in our institutions has been badly damaged and is in need of renewal.

Henry David Thoreau once asked: “How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down.” By educating for citizenship we will be planting new trees from which the birds will once again sing. All societies and institutions are in constant need of renewal and regeneration.

Singapore is renowned for its meritocracy – but meritocracies must always guard against leaders becoming a detached elite. A fundamental principle of democratic leadership is to serve those whom you have been entrusted to lead. Educating for citizenship must inspire a new generation imbued with the concept servant leadership capable of renewing institutions and the vibrancy of society.

Dr.Singh reminded me of the time when we routinely taught every child something which we called “civics”, when we saw education as being about a preparation for life, not just for work.

It was a British Member of Parliament, Sir William Curtis, who, at the end of the eighteenth century, used the phrase “the three Rs”reading, writing and arithmetic – to emphasise the basic skills which every individual needs to be employable or to access higher levels of education.

The idea has even earlier origins. In the fifth century Saint Augustine in his “Confessions” noted that “For those first lessons, reading, writing and arithmetic, I thought as great a burden and penalty as any Greek.”  Winston Churchill famously admitted that learning Latin had for him been a burden – saying that he saw little purpose in learning how to address a table in six different ways.

 

Education can, indeed, become a burden or a penalty if it degenerates into an obsession with memorising vocabulary or merely understanding quadratic equations.

Charles Dickens captured the futility of this kind of education in his classic novel, Hard Times.  His fictional teacher, Thomas Gradgrind never sees education as being about values or about the deepening of a man’s mind but tells us “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

But is a world of the “three Rs” and an education based merely on the regurgitation of facts – a world of numbers and memorised rote learning – enough?

In Dickens’ fictionalised account, Gradgrind creates a world devoid of humanity, compassion, or gentle intellectual inquiry and fails both as a teacher and as a father – seeing his own son becoming a thief.

Contrast Gradgrind’s view of education with that of the first words of the Confucian classic, “The Great Learning”, where it is said “The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness.”

Or contrast a Gradgrind education with John Henry Newman’s description of what a university should be: “It is a seat of wisdom, a light of the world, a minister of the faith, an alma mater of the rising generation. It is this and a great deal more.”

Newman listed the intellectual virtues as “good sense, sobriety of thought, reasonableness, candour, self-command and steadfastness of view.” In the “knowledge economy” where there is less time for learning for its own sake, we must be careful not to replace Gradgrind’s narrow vision with our own equally narrow one.

Once the mind has been formed and the intellect has been connected with the foundational principles, a modern civic education must surely have something to say about how we inter-act with our fellow citizens and the world in which we live.

Instead of merely educating for facts, we must, therefore educate for virtue: educate for citizenship. What do I mean by this?

An education for citizenship would enable young people, in particular, to reach beyond academic attainment alone – to think, enquire, debate and understand how decisions will affect their lives and the future of their nation and the world.

If we educate young people for citizenship we will need to lay before them potential ethical dilemmas, moral conundrums, technological and scientific challenges, the rapidly changing pace of living; world crises – ranging from hunger, to the use of violence and terror, to global warming, to the exploitation of finite resources.

A civic education must, above all, underline the moral significance of self-knowledge – enabling us to see ourselves as agents in the way we live and affect others. We need citizens who embrace the idea of ethical responsibility for their individual and collective actions.

This kind of education will be the antidote to intolerance and barbarism; the antidote to ignorance.

It was C.S.Lewis who warned against educators who “make men without chests”, who cease to be educators and become what he calls “conditioners”. He said that “The task of modern education is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.”

 

In a characteristically blunt turn of phrase Lewis says that through our hollowed-out education system we treat our children like “geldings. We bid them be fruitful only to neuter them.” But it needn’t be like this.

Matthew Arnold – poet, educationalist and son of Thomas Arnold, the famous Victorian headmaster – passionately believed that education should ensure that students have access to “the best which has been said and thought” and never simply be focused on the mercantile needs of an industrial State: “The aim and office of instruction… is to enable a man to know himself and the world… To know himself, a man must know the capabilities and performances of the human spirit… [which is] the value of the humanities… but it is also a vital and formative knowledge to know the world, the laws which govern nature, and man as a part of nature.” So, self knowledge and knowledge of what is expected of you in playing your part in society is central.

 

In contemporary terms this surely requires a compact between educationalists, commerce and the State to produce graduates who connect with the wider needs of society.  This is especially true now that there is mass participation in university education. By educating for citizenship we will also be providing better graduates for business and employers and in forming agents for change.    Contrast the following two world views.

Nelson Mandela, having been incarcerated for 27 years, correctly observed that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

 

Elsewhere in Africa, in Nigeria, where elections have been underway this weekend, Boko Haram – which means eradicate Western education – also understands the power of education – which is why they abduct young girls to deny them an education and, in cold blood, murder sleeping student in their dormitories.

No one better understands the power of education, and more courageously articulates the first of those two world views, than the youngest Nobel laureate, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder after Malala spoke up for the right of girls to receive an education. As Malala says: One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

How right is the old Chinese proverb which states that if you want to plant for one season, you should plant a seed; if you want to plant for ten years, you should plant a tree; but if you want to plant for life, you should give a young man or woman an education.

I passionately believe that; and believe that a rounded education will go beyond the mantra of reading, writing and arithmetic or the formulaic facts of Thomas Gradgrind.

 

Let me explain what I mean by suggesting a different formulation of another three Rs: Respect, Rights and Responsibilities.

1 First, Respect:

 

Education, and formation of the masses, must enrich the intellect, cultivate virtues and good tendencies, and engender a spontaneous uprightness of the will, shape instincts and conscience, and steer us towards respect for one another, especially respect for divergent beliefs and diversity – principles familiar to any Singaporean.

I was struck by, and agree with something which Chiam See Tong said while he was a member of the Singapore Parliament:

The most important thing is that you have to respect an individual, whether he’s got six Cs or six As and whether he’s a brain surgeon or a dustman. I think we should give him the same respect. If you don’t give respect to your own citizens, I think you condemn them forever.” 

But should respect trump all other considerations?

In 1644 John Milton, in the Areopagitica wrote:  “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience.” A passionate defence of free speech but nothing here about respect.

Free speech – and the right to argue according to conscience – is something to be greatly prized. People have died for the right to free speech but no right, including this one, can exist in a vacuum and without a suitable respect for another person’s beliefs or culture. If we always have the importance of respect in mind we will achieve better balance – and balance must always be struck.

All freedoms must be tempered by mutual respect – which is why hate-speak or the ridiculing, for instance, of deeply held religious beliefs can be become inflammatory and offensive – and, as we saw in Paris, may have fatal consequences.

Whipping up hated against minorities or against people who are simply different from you will inevitably disrupt the harmony and good order of society. Equally, imprisoning a young man for expressing on his Facebook site that he does not believe in God – as happened in Indonesia – is wholly disproportionate. Once again, a correct balance has not been struck.

If we are to be truly responsible citizens then, whatever our outlook, our beliefs, our profession or job, at all costs we must avoid a clash of blind fundamentalism, what Matthew Arnold, in his poem, “Dover Beach” described as a place “where ignorant armies clash by night.”

All of which underlines why, to avoid ignorance, and to ensure that our consciences are formed in a manner which enables us to make prudential judgements, we need appropriate forms of education.

At the heart of what we teach must be a respect for others and for law, and the placing of fetters on the unbounded autonomy of the individual, what Edmund Burke described as “order that keeps things fast in their place”. This must be a part of the formation of every citizen. Educating for citizenship will cultivate respect for the dignity of difference.

But can this be done in the school room or university lecture theatre alone?

There is an old African proverb that   – it needs everyone including, our educational institutions, the family, religious and secular leaders.  Everyone is born into a network of relationships – beginning with the family – and this is a partnership which must spread across generations.

The African concept of Ubuntu – which is sometime translated as “humanity towards others” – might well inform the sort of questions which the whole tribe should be asking itself about what it stands for; and whether right balances are being struck.

What sort of questions, then, might we be asking ourselves? Here are a few that have been suggested.

Do we respect one another; do we respect our parents and families; do we respect our civic institutions; do we respect those who are different – perhaps for reasons of race, religion, class, gender or orientation?

How do we ensure that vulnerable groups are not made more vulnerable or stigmatised – especially engendering respect for people with disabilities or the elderly?

Do we respect the finite resources entrusted to us?

Do we use them in a sustainable way?

Do we respect our environment – from the streets and neighbourhoods where we live to respect for the natural world?

Do we actually bother to ask what creates respectful and good communities?

Do we understand the importance of respectful relationships in sustaining society?

And do we ask how can we strengthen that which is local and unleash the power of creative citizenship?

How might we use the markets and our economies to re-order priorities, to reduce the sense of alienation, to encourage mutual respect?

Are we going to turn our fire on the weapons of mass consumption, our addiction to hedonism, materialism and affluent barbarism?

The Jewish sage Hillel was right when he said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

 

Or, as Dr.Seet I Mee said in 2011: “Life is not just about shoes and mobile phones.”

Are we only for ourselves; just for our possessions? Or are we educated to ask ourselves how we will use our gifts, our wealth, our time, in an outpouring for the common good?

Do we appreciate the privileges and liberties which we enjoy and how do we create a tolerant, inclusive and respectful civil society.

It was Edmund Burke who once observed: “It is easy to give power, but difficult to give wisdom.” How, then, can a civic education help in cultivating wisdom and virtue? How can it help us strike an appropriate balance between respecting others whilst seeking to uphold our own rights? And what do we mean by rights – the second of my three “Rs”?

  1. Rights

 

In modern politics the language of rights and choice has become a mantra. In “After Virtue” Alasdair MacIntyre demolishes the idea that rights themselves can replace the richer language of personal and civic virtue.

Civil society has become uncivil as modern citizenship has been perceived in terms of rights alone. An exaggerated emphasis on rights shorn of duties breaks a delicate balance and creates a chronically disordered society.

John Stuart Mill saw rights as a scaffold erected by society, on which we can hang the things which permit human and societal development. The contrary view of rights is that they are not created by law but that they exist for themselves and that the law simply places them on a legal footing.  This argument can be circular and, rather than arguing about the origins of rights, we would be better served by simply identifying the rights which best serve us – and which best serve the common good.

In educating for citizenship I would frame the debate about rights in the context of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and which had its genesis in the experiences of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and atrocities committed here in the East at the hands of their allies.

During the Second World War the Allies adopted four basic war aims: freedom from fear; freedom from want; freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Article 18, which uphold the right to believe, to change belief, or not to believe, is honoured in its breach but this “orphaned right”  desperately needs to be upheld in areas of conflict the world over.

The 1948 Declaration was the first global expression of rights to which every human being is entitled – 30 Articles which adumbrates the right to life, and rights of conscience, freedom of speech, religious liberty and many others.

Many of the Articles have subsequently been incorporated in international treaties, national constitutions, and many diverse legal instruments – and form the bedrock of organisations such as the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth.

The Charter of the United Nations “reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, and the dignity and worth of the human person.” The Charter required its signatories to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

Like civil society at a local community level or at national level, imperfect institutions like the United Nations will only ever be as good as their component parts – but all of them are indispensable to good order.

One of the UN’s greatest Secretary Generals, Dag Hammarskjold said “The UN wasn’t founded to take mankind to paradise but rather to save humanity from hell.”

Hammarskjold understood the fine balance which must always be struck between the rights we cherish and our commensurate civic obligations as citizens:

“The health and strength of a community depends on every citizen’s felling of solidarity with other citizens and on their willingness in the name of this solidarity to shoulder their part of the burdens and responsibilities of the community. The same is, of course, true of humanity as a whole.”

Humanity as a whole, through the small platoons of civil society – starting with the family – must learn the art of shouldering their responsibilities.

Whether we are talking about our duties to our family and neighbours or our duty as nations, we need to teach and assert that with every right comes a responsibility, a duty and an obligation. So, in moving from rights to the third of my the “Rs” I would argue that rights must be balanced by responsibilities.

3. Responsibilities

 

Aristotle believed that the requirements for a “good” city, a “good” society or a “good” person all stemmed from the belief that we are all “social animals” – and interdependent: “not solitary pieces in a game of chequers”. It is for each of us to work out what responsibilites this places on us as we try to discover what it means to be fully human and in deciding how we cultivate a common life together. But that is also where education and formation is so fundamental.

Do we teach citizens to balance claimed rights by embracing our responsibilities, our duties, our obligations to one another? Do we teach them to play their part – not to opt out.

Cicero, in his work “On Duty” said that “the whole glory of virtue is in activity”. What was true for the Romans is true, also, for us: by actively participating in voluntary organisations, charities, philanthropy – an example of which we saw here at the outset of this evening’s lecture – and civil society – in the small platoons – we learn a practical wisdom and in doing so we become better, more virtuous people.

In 2005, a formidable American academic, Mary Ann Glendon coined the pithy phrase ‘Traditions in Turmoil’ as the title for her analysis of the jettisoning of the ties which bind and the abandonment of duties.

Consider for a moment the consequences of discarding values and virtues once taught by parents and re-enforced by educationalist and by civil society, and simply replacing them with the flaccid language of rights and entitlements.

 

If we are to educate for citizenship, we need a richer language of responsibilities, duties and obligations – a language which comes with the privilege of sharing in the common life of a nation or community. Educating for citizenship is educating us to know ourselves. Let me give a couple of examples.

Singapore has always had strict laws, strongly enforced, against corruption. That is to be admired.

But beyond being told that corruption, stealing or lying is wrong, we also need to know what it is about them that makes them unacceptable. Rules must genuinely serve the development of judgement.  As G.K.Chesterton once remarked: To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it” – we need the judgement to know the difference.
Or, take science. All of us celebrate the extraordinary achievements of science – but we know that a scientist devoid of ethics, just like an entrepreneur devoid of a sense of responsibility to his employees, consumers, or shareholders, can become a danger to us all.

If I can paraphrase Albert Einstein, science that is devoid of ethics is lame; but, equally, ethics or philosophy without an understanding of science is blind.

Science – just like commerce – must be guided by a civic sense of working for all, not just for oneself.

Einstein asserted that misuse of science could only be countered “by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. …I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.”

It is a sobering thought that more than half of the participants at Hitler’s 1942 Wannsee Conference, which planned what was called “the final solution to the Jewish question” – that is the extermination and murder of Europe’s Jewish people – were either medical practitioners or in receipt of other academic doctorates. Nazi collaborators included a cast of scientists, doctors, judges, lawyers, philosophers and academics. It’s very easy to be corrupted.

Manifestly, science operating in an ethical void carries huge risks for any society. The writer, H. G. Wells, understood what would happen if we fail to appreciate the role of education in fostering a civilised society, where personal civic responsibility is cultivated in each person, insisting that “Maintaining civilisation is a constant race between education and catastrophe”.

To avoid catastrophe, then, we must educate and always educate for virtue, for virtuous citizenship. This principle must be applied across the piece – always encouraging us to ask the right questions about what we are doing and our motive for doing it.

Making money and enjoying it, for instance is clearly not in itself wrong – but has it become an end in itself?

A civic education would encourage us to consider the role of individual and corporate philanthropy, the duty to support the widow, the orphan, the disadvantaged. It would encourage us to develop and examine our conscience. It was Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living.

If we were to educate for citizenship we would enshrine the responsibilities of each person: to live peaceably; to participate in civic institutions and the processes of local and national government; to contribute to the resourcing of commonly beneficial institutions; to acquire knowledge and to encourage the pursuit of knowledge in children; to learn respect for the needs of others; to behave ethically; and to appreciate how legitimate rights have been acquired; to cherish them; and to lear how to strike balances.

We would cultivate a respect for customs, laws and institutions which serve the common good and harmony of society; we would cultivate a belief in the supreme importance of the rule of law; we would share our stories and shared histories and memorialise the lives which bequeathed our liberties; and we would cultivate a reverence for the impulses and altruistic outpouring which can accompany the religious faiths which animate billions of people throughout the world.

But beyond these three Rs of Respect, Rights and Responsibilities, what more might we say – especially about educating for virtue?

What are some of the origins of these ideas? 

In the West, Aristotle’s ancient virtues continue to inform the debate about how we educate for good ethics and good citizenship. They are:

Justice

Wisdom

Temperance

Courage

Magnanimity

Tolerance

Munificence

Prudence; and

Gentleness

These ideas, along with Judaeo-Christian ideals – faith hope and charity – are captured by Thomas Aquinas and continue to inform both religious and secular discourse.

In the East, Aristotle’s belief in the promotion of personal virtue sits well alongside the Confucian concept of ren: “compassion” or “loving others.” For Confucius, such concern for others is demonstrated through the practice of forms of The Golden Rule:

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others;”

“Since you yourself desire standing then help others achieve it; since you yourself desire success then help others attain it.”

 

Like Christ he teaches that such altruism can be accomplished only by those who have learned self-discipline.

He also says that “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right” – a pretty good prospectus for any educator.

If we are to be educated active citizens who wish to serve the common good we must begin with ourselves As Ghandi says: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”

Equally, in many places the Holy Qur’an makes it clear that everyone will be responsible for their own deed – and held accountable for what they did – an “upright society” beginning with the individual.

And the Buddha reminds us of the responsibility each of us has, to choose our words carefully and to recognise the effect that they and our actions have on wider society: “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influence by them for good or ill.”

The dasa-raja-dhamma sets out the basic framework of Buddhist ethics for those who govern and captures these ideas in ten words: 1 Dāna (charity); 2. Sīla (morality); 3. Pariccāga (altruism); 4. Ājjava (honesty); 5. Maddava (gentleness) 6. Tapa (self controlling; 7. Akkodha (non-anger); —8. Avihimsa (non-violence); 9. Khanti (forbearance); and 10. Avirodhana (uprightness)

And, from a humanist perspective, such virtues are well represented by the life and actions of nelson Mandela, who said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

 

The virtues on which these ideas are based are acquired by practice. They are internal qualities perfecting the interior persona and, thus deeply affecting society as a whole. But they do not happen by accident; they have to be inculcated.

As I come to the end let me draw these thoughts about respect, rights and responsibilities together and reflect brieflky on some of the consequences when we fail to educate for citizenship.

Conclusion:

If such indispensable civic virtues – which united East and West – are not passed from generation to generation, civic sinews will begin to deteriorate and atrophy. Let me remind you of a few manifestations of our disaggregated and dysfunctional society in the West.

During the height of the 2011 riots in Britain it was sickening to see a bleeding boy, attacked and robbed by those who first appeared to have come to his aid; or the 67-year-old killed because he tried to prevent arson; or the 11-year-old brought before the courts and convicted because, along with thousands of other looters, he exploited the breakdown in law and order.

Beyond our shock and anger we must also ask ourselves some deeper questions about the kind of society we have created and the kind of society which we want it to be. If we do not attend to the root problems, far worse will visit us in the future.

These same questions face all developed societies but let me briefly conclude by pointing to some of the consequences for my own country, the United Kingdom, in failing to educate for citizenship; failing to synthesise these 3 Rs of respect, rights and responsibilities.

I said our responsibilities begin with our children and our families. Britain is a country where family breakdown and the abandonment of children has led to 800,000 children having no contact with their fathers. In 2014 the Relationships Foundation estimated the economic cost of family breakdown at £46 billion.

The human costs are incalculable.

In 2014 there were 68,840 “looked after” children in care. One in ten children is severely neglected in childhood. In 2013 934,600 youngsters – aged 10-17 – were convicted of a crime.

According to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year. In 2012/13 14,863 children called Childline about suicide. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children.

More than 140,000 people try to commit suicide every year – many of them young. Suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths among young people aged 15 to 24.

Toxic loneliness leads to depression, despair and worse.

Last year, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in despair, which is one call every seven seconds. Also last year, 29.4 million anti-depressants were dispensed, which is a 334 % increase since 1985 at a cost to the National Health Service of £338 million.

The twenty first century is fast becoming a century of toxic loneliness – and any number of computer terminals and virtual reality friends on social networking sites are no substitute for human commerce and human kindness. The levels of loneliness, despair and depression are the backdrop against which we are living.

An estimated 1 million elderly people do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week; 7 million people are now living alone in Great Britain – entirely unprecedented in our history. 26% of households comprising just one and on present trends by 2016 36% of all homes will be inhabited by a single person.

Many families and communities face indebtedness on an unparalleled scale. Total personal debt in the UK has reached £1.43 trillion – not far short of the level of national debt ($1.47 trillion). Indebtedness on this scale is “intergenerational theft” and is unsustainable. It is also a reflection of our failure to educate for citizenship – both in terms of individual as well as collective responsibility.

To reverse these sort of trends will involve more than the General election now underway in the UK. It will require  the renewal of our battered and compromised institutions and require us to reassess how we see ourselves as citizens and how we see our obligations and duties, our responsibilities as well as our rights. This will need our practical actions as well as a different way of thinking.

Although, during my time in the House of Commons I was not a member of her political party, I agreed with Margaret Thatcher’s observation, while she was Prime Minister, that: “We are not in politics to ignore people’s worries: we are in politics to deal with them”

Over seventy years ago, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, having described the fall of Singapore as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history” would weep when he saw the destruction of the East End of London by Nazi bombardment.

Perhaps, in this context of the litany of indicators which provide the contours of our social ecology, we should shed a few tears ourselves. And to put the maladies right will require the wisdom and the actions of the whole tribe.

Churchill understood the importance of drawing a whole nation around a common cause: ‘All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope’.

These are all words which our society needs today.

It is sometimes said that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago but that the second-best time is now. We can despair at the civic deficit or we can do something about it. And civic education is the key. As to how we teach it. I’m with the American writer, Mark Twain, who said that “Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire.”

 

 Let’s not turn it merely into dry as dust studies of constitutions or Bills of Rights. Educating for citizenship is not a spectator sport or the preserve of a few well-meaning academics or specialists. It is the concern of us all and should be experienced as well as taught. Citizenship awards, like those promoted by my university in Liverpool, “service learning”, community endeavour all have their part to play – along with systematic teaching, across many different subjects, about what is expected of the citizen in a democratic society: about the formation of men and women for others.

When she was completing her tour of duty in London, a former Chinese Ambassador, Madam Fu Ying, told me that one of the memories which she would always treasure was when a young boy called Isaac, walked from his home in Wales to present a cheque for money he had raised for the earthquake disaster victims in Sichuan: “An ambassador will never forget that” she said. For me, it was an example of a young man who had been educated in what it truly means to be a citizen.

 Let me end now with a story from ancient China about a man named Bian. Some of you will doubtless know the story already.

One day Bian found a large stone. It was actually an unpolished piece of the precious and highly valued stone, jade.

Bian was so excited by his discovery that he resolved to present the unpolished stone as a gift to the Emperor of China.

Unfortunately for Bian, when he received it the Emperor saw nothing except a large stone with its rough and disfigured surfaces.

Believing that Bian was trying to make a fool of him the Emperor angrily ordered Bian’s left foot to be amputated.

The Emperor died and Bian tried again – presenting the large stone to the new Emperor. Once again, the potentate reacted angrily, and seeing only the exterior of the unpolished stone, he ordered that Bian’s right foot should also be amputated.

Now a third emperor ascended the throne.  The cruelly mutilated Bian asked to be brought to the Palace. For three days and nights he lay outside, clenching the jade in his arms.

This new emperor, exasperated but also intrigued, sent one of his courtiers to investigate and then ordered that the stone be polished to see what it concealed. This was when they discovered a stunning and beautiful jade hidden beneath the rough and ugly exterior.

 

A failure to cultivate what I have called the three Rs of Respect, Rights and Responsibilities will disfigure our society, just as Bian, in this tale, was disfigured.

By contrast, if we commit ourselves to educate for citizenship we, too, will be rewarded with a beautiful jade. We simply need to commit ourselves to do it.

Thank you again for inviting me to address you at SMU.

David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and is Director of their Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship

 

 

House of Lords votes down amendment to provide greater protection for domestic migrant labour

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House of Lords votes down amendment to provide greater protection for domestic migrant labour:

Full debate:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/150325-0001.htm#15032588000969

For background see:

http://davidalton.net/2015/02/26/modern-day-slavery-and-human-trafficking-update-on-the-latest-amendments-and-debates-on-the-modern-day-slavery-bill/

March 4th 2015 - David Alton with a group of domestic migrant - campaigning for changes in the law.
March 4th 2015 – David Alton with a group of domestic migrant – campaigning for changes in the law.

25 Mar 2015 : Column 1438 4.30pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I would like to make a number of points about Motion A1, which my noble friend has laid before your Lordships’ House. In doing so, let me say first to my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss that she has been involved in the drafting of this legislation, as she said, even before it was presented as a Bill. However, on Report I passed an article to my noble friend Lord Hylton that he had written in 1996, and which I had kept, about the importance of safeguarding domestic migrant workers. No one has done more in your Lordships’ House than my noble friend Lord Hylton to champion their cause. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Bates, was right to pay tribute to him.

Although this risks becoming like a mutual admiration society, I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in congratulating the Minister on the exemplary way that he has handled the Bill. It has, throughout, been a bipartisan Bill—the Opposition have played a huge part in it, as have people from all Benches in your Lordships’ House—and a bicameral Bill, with a lot of interaction between both Houses. The right honourable Member for Birkenhead, Frank Field—we all wish him well as he recovers from his recent

25 Mar 2015 : Column 1439

heart attack—chaired that important committee on the draft Bill. He is right to emphasise the totality of this Bill.

There is no one in your Lordships’ House, including my noble friend, who will put this Bill at risk in any way whatever, but making a good Bill even better is surely what Parliament is all about. We have made this provision better. I will come back to that in a moment, but it is worth pointing out that supply chain transparency, which my noble and learned friend referred to, was not even in the Bill after the pre-legislative scrutiny stage in another place; it was incorporated on the Floor of the House. Similarly, there was no provision in the Bill on domestic migrant labour when it began to go through its stages. We have been improving it as we have proceeded. The Minister will correct me, but I think in Committee and on Report—I was able to take part in all stages of the Bill—around 100 amendments, many of them emanating from the Government after the discussions we had in the meetings that the noble Lord organised for us, were incorporated into the Bill. That is why it is already so much better than when it began.

I take issue a little with my noble and learned friend. It is the job of parliamentarians to be here until Parliament is dissolved. We have not got to the last gasp; this is not Custer’s last stand, as she put it. I certainly do not regard people laying amendments before your Lordships’ House and giving them proper consideration, as we are doing, as blackmail. I think it unreasonable to suggest that. I ask the Government this in that context: why is it that an amendment that was incorporated on domestic migrant labour about a week ago in another place has taken so long to come back to your Lordships’ House? Why is it here on the penultimate day? Why could it not have been here on Monday, for instance, allowing for more consideration if time is really the issue?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, rightly said, there is plenty of time for this to go to another place tonight. I have served in one or other of these Houses for the last 36 years. As the noble Baroness said, I remember the so-called wash-ups where we were here all night long dealing with things going between the two Houses until we got it right. Often, we got it much better as a consequence. I think back to the LASPO legislation. I moved an amendment concerning the legal aid provisions for people who had contracted mesothelioma. Your Lordships, across the House, were good enough to support it and it ping-ponged back and forth between both Houses. On the third time of asking, the Government relented and modified the legislation. That is our duty as parliamentarians: to seek as much as we can get and to recognise the moment when no more can be gained. I am sure that my noble friend, who has been in your Lordships’ House for a lot longer than I have been, will be able to remind your Lordships of plenty of such precedents. If we are here tomorrow again debating an amendment and the Commons decide that they do not wish to modify Motion A but wish to persist with it, then we will no doubt hear from the noble Lord what he wishes to do.

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I turn briefly to the substance of the amendment. Until we incorporated this new clause, the Bill contained nothing whatever to address the tying of migrant domestic workers to their employers. On two occasions in the last three weeks I have met domestic migrant workers on Cromwell Green, and I know that other Members of your Lordships’ House have done so too. They were brought here by the Kalayaan charity, which the noble Baroness referred to. They told me that when news of the vote in your Lordships’ House on my noble friend’s amendment was announced, a young woman called Marissa Begonia, herself a domestic worker and co-ordinator of the self-help group Justice 4 Domestic Workers, described how she received texts from workers asking her, “Am I free now?”. Unfortunately, of course, the answer is “Not yet”. However, I recognise that the Minister has gone some way today, particularly in what he said about the review, but that review can now take place anyway, regardless of what we decide regarding this amendment. These things are not mutually exclusive.

In a nutshell, the government amendment does not provide additional protections against exploitation. Once someone is trafficked, it forces them to go to the police without any guarantee of protection before they do so. One employment agency told me that it would not place someone on a six-month visa with no hope of renewal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, there is a real risk that it could drive people underground—again, with no access to things such as legal aid.

My noble friend’s amendment merely asks for the most basic of protections, and they are threefold: first, to change employer but remain restricted to domestic work in one household; secondly, if in full-time work as a migrant domestic worker in a private household, the option to apply to renew the visa; and, thirdly, in instances of slavery, a three-month visa to allow the workers to look for decent work. Without these kinds of provisions, we leave in place a system found repeatedly during almost three years to facilitate exploitation, including trafficking of migrant domestic workers.

Many workers coming to Kalayaan describe how they have “sacrificed” themselves for the well-being of their wider family. They do not self-protect in the way that someone with more choices would expect. Many explain that they are prepared to put up with practically any amount of mistreatment if they can provide for their children and ensure that the same will not happen to them.

In 2009, the Home Affairs Select Committee, in its inquiry into trafficking, said that the visa issue was,

“the single most important issue in preventing the forced labour and trafficking of such workers”.

No one is so naive—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bates—to suggest or imagine that the exploitation of domestic workers would be abolished by such minimal protections, but they would certainly be an improvement on the current situation. The Minister referred to the anti-slavery commissioner designate, Kevin Hyland, and said that he did not feel that this went far enough. Well, he is right about that, so let us at least go as far

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as these amendments and as far as we can by regulation in due course, but let us do as much as we can for the moment.

When the Minister comes to reply, can he say whether the measures might include provisions—maybe as a result of the review—for annual inspections, for checks with the Inland Revenue to ensure that employers have registered and are making reasonable levels of contributions, and for annual meetings between the worker and a trusted authority? All those will be crucial. I believe that my noble friend is right to have laid this amendment before your Lordships’ House and I do not think that it is a question of this being Custer’s last stand. I hope that, from my noble friend’s point of view and because of all the things that he has done in raising this issue in the past, we will continue to give him our support if he chooses to press the matter to a Division.

David Alton with Domestic Migrant Workers